By Amanda Menas
When educators retire, they rely on benefits they earned over their years of service in public schools to support the next chapter of their lives. However, nearly 2 million retired educators across the country are subject to the heartbreaking impacts of a program that for almost 35 years has threatened or destroyed public employees’ retirement security.
The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the Social Security benefits of people whose work history includes both jobs covered and not covered by Social Security. That would include educators in states where public employees don’t pay into Social Security who take on part-time or summer jobs to make ends meet.
WEP has done financial harm to generations of retirees. Fortunately, there are members of Congress who understand that educators should keep the retirement security they earned in jobs they held outside of education. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) introduced the Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act to lessen the impacts of WEP and protect educators. If that bill becomes law, current retirees would receive an extra $150 a month and future retirees would gain an extra $75 a month, on average.
Here are three things you need to know about H.R. 4540 and what you can do to support it:
1. How WEP might affect you
Educators are among the people most profoundly affected by WEP. Fifteen states do not pay into Social Security for public employees, who must rely solely on their pensions. But many states do not meet their pension obligations and routinely shortchange retirees (by eliminating cost of living increases, for example).
WEP harms not only retirees, but the profession at large. For example, the provision dissuades career changers from considering teaching if their previous job did pay into Social Security, because those individuals could lose up to 50 percent of the Social Security benefit they earned in their first line of work. The maximum WEP reduction for 2019 is $463 per month.
2. Educators are speaking out about retirement insecurity
When Jon-Paul Roden started teaching in 1965, he found that he needed to supplement his income. The side jobs he took on over the years made him eligible for Social Security benefits when he retired. But when he did so in 2000, he felt the impact of the WEP provision. Roden knew that he would be affected, but many of his colleagues are unaware until they are about to retire.
“It changes a person’s lifestyle because they don’t have the income they were expecting or were entitled to receive,” Roden says. For nearly two decades, Roden has been an active NEA retired member, advocating with fellow former educators to explain the problem within their own communities and speaking with lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol.
Roden encourages other retirees to thank their members of Congress if they’ve signed on to legislation to address the problem. If they haven’t signed on, you can join Roden in communicating regularly to members of Congress: “Email, write, and tell them your story about the negative effects of WEP,” he advises. Here’s an easy way to do that: https://educationvotes.nea.org/take-action/#retirement-security.
3. What is NEA doing and how can you help?
In the past, NEA has opposed bills that offered a partial fix to WEP, because they simply created a new set of winners and losers. But the Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act has NEA’s support because it is a good incremental step toward full repeal of both the WEP and its counterpart, the Government Pension Offset (GPO). That provision reduces the Social Security spousal or survivor benefits that public employees receive. Further, under the proposed bill, no one who is currently subject to WEP would get less money.
“This bill is a great step in the right direction toward protecting the Social Security benefits that educators, firefighters, police officers, and other dedicated public employees have earned,” said Marc Egan, NEA Director of Government Relations. “We fully support it even as we continue to fight for full repeal of WEP and GPO.”
NEA also supports the Social Security Fairness Act of 2019 (S.521 and H.R.141), which would completely repeal both WEP and GPO. The measure has bipartisan support that was built in part by NEA members, who sent more than 20,000 emails to Congress in the past year alone.
Add your voice! Write or call your members of Congress, and tell your stories about the negative effects of WEP and GPO.